The Artifact Collective | Q&A: Creative Director Paula Cuevas
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Q&A: Creative Director Paula Cuevas

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Interview By Lourdes Sukari

What led you to pursue a BFA in Interior Design from SCAD? How has that decision impacted your career?

So, growing up my dad would always talk about starting projects around the house. Like a pool house (but we never had a pool) or a tree house (no substantial trees either lol). I would draw up floor plans and perspectives and pick out colors, stuff like that. That’s how I first got interested in the structural aspect of design. I’ve always had this desire to create spaces that could act as little momentary escape routes from reality, but as a teenager my focus wasn’t refined just yet. I couldn’t decide between hospitality design, set design for films and television, or stage design. Once I graduated high school I started looking into the best Interior Design schools and SCAD’s Interior Design program was amazing. So, naturally, I applied with hopes that I would be able to narrow down my career path while making my way through the program. SCAD was such an amazing experience. Getting my BFA from SCAD has affected my career (and overall life) in ways that I’m still discovering every day. From the more tangible aspects like knowing how to use almost every 3D modeling software in existence to being able to power through 109 hours of no sleep if I ever need to again. 10/10 would attend again if free.

 

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Art, Beats + Lyrics, Miami 2015

You’ve stated that the goal of your work is to “transport an artist’s audience into the same world they envisioned while creating their music.” Naturally, we met in Miami, on tour w/ Art, Beats + Lyrics because you were directing the stage design for Masego & Mystikal. Was that your first tour experience? Also, what was your process in designing the visual equivalent of the artists contrasting musical styles?

Was it my first tour experience? Yes + No, I’ve traveled quite a bit for work as a visuals manager w/ American Apparel. But the AB+L tour was my first time traveling for stage design. I share credit for the AB+L Miami stage with the person I was working with at the time, Shanese Nixon. When coming up for the overall concept for the stage, we took into account several factors: the location of show, the time the show was taking place, and of course the visual and musical styles of the performers. Because Masego and Mystikal do have very contrasting styles, we turned our main focus towards the location and the time of the show. With it being in Miami around the time of Art Basel, we knew would have to match the energy of the audience that would be attending. Eventually, we settled on a ‘Miami Vice’ concept. We used fluorescent lights, bright colors, graphic shapes, and tropical plants. All of which ended up matching Masego’s visual tone really well. I was super happy with the outcome of that show <3

 

Since the AB+L tour ended, you’ve continued contracting with various brands and artists doing creative direction, installments, graphic, set & stage design. What has been the key to staying inspired and innovative for your clients while staying true to your personal brand? 

Inspiration is fleeting, for sure. Staying inspired is something I have to actively do everyday. Most days I’m inspired by my amazingly talented friends, some days I’ll listen to an artist I’m into and just sketch out possible stages or video sets, and some days it’s as simple as hopping on Pinterest or Instagram and seeing something cool. My clients have definitely been a huge source of inspiration though. For instance, I’ve had the opportunity to work with St. Beauty and being around their passion and raw talent pushed me to put in just as much passion into the set design. You should keep an eye out for that collaboration ^_^ Even when I’m working with my Bae Worldwide team I’m driven to make each design better than the last. All of the girls on the team are so driven and are constantly wanting to learn and grow and thrive. That energy is contagious. As far as staying true to my personal brand, it’s really a matter of me always doing what feels right. No matter who I’m working with, I know what I like, I know what will work for my client, and I know how to make it happen. And what’s been great so far is everyone I decide to work with, trusts me. My clients know that if I’m working with them it’s because I respect and admire their talent, and because of that, they know that I’m putting my all into their set, stage, or installation. I think who I decide to work with is a huge part of maintaining my personal brand. I’m always up for a challenge and pushing my limits, but if it doesn’t feel organic, if it doesn’t fit, I just won’t do it.

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Art, Beats + Lyrics, Miami 2015

Speaking of personal brand, your work, though ever-changing, has a consistent visual aesthetic. What has gone into developing your style guide? Do you believe other artists pursuing set + stage design should do the same early on? 

I really appreciate that you see consistency! I’m personally into so many different visual styles that I’ve found it difficult to stick to just one. Some times I’m into lots of color, sometimes I’m into all white. Sometimes I want an entire space to be filled and sometimes I want just one focal point. So developing a style guide for me has been simply about maintaining a certain level of quality. I never want to limit myself to just one visual identity. A lot of my most recent work has fallen into a general visual story, but I feel that as long as I continue putting my all into each and every project, my work will be seen as MY work. I’d definitely say that other artists pursuing set and stage design should feel the same way. Don’t feel like you need to define yourself too early on. Do what you want, when you want, and do it well. Your personal style will shine through.

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Photo by Angell Visions

You’re known to be resourceful with lighting, fabric, etc. How much research, trial & error goes into making these dreamworlds a reality?

A lot! Each design project is a learning experience. I learn new tricks every time. Researching for projects usually consists of looking up past performances or visuals from an artist and digging into my own archives to develop a concept, figuring out the best way to physically construct the stage, and then pricing and sourcing all the materials I need. So research is a huge part of it. Trial and error is part of the fun honestly. I’ll sketch up exactly what I want to create and along the way aspects shift and morph into what was meant to be a reality. It’s always interesting watching a raw idea that I put onto paper coming to fruition.

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Photo by Angell Visions

What have been some challenges you’ve faced as an independent artist and how have you worked through them?

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ That is the biggest challenge I’ve faced as an independent artist. Financing my designs can get really tricky sometimes. Being resourceful and using what you have available is key. At one point, I was taking unused materials from my old retail job for sets. But I also feel that you have to spend money to make it. So I don’t shy away from putting in as much money as I’m able to at the time to make a project meet a certain level of quality that I’ve set for myself. I’m still learning and growing everyday, but being resourceful and setting aside money solely for design projects has been my way of combating any costs I come across.

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Photo By Shelby Gordon

You recently started working for Ambient+ Studio in Atlanta. What has your role been there? How has it assisted you in your creative growth? Is it your goal to only do studio work in the long run?

So, I have a card with Ambient that says I’m “Associate Co-Director of Studio Assistants & Affiliate Affairs” lol. I started working there top of 2016 and the position is more so a Stage Manager. Ambient + is a rental space for events, photo, and video. Anytime a client rents it out, I’m the person of contact for the venue. It’s helpful seeing how an independent studio is run and how to interact with different types of clients on a daily. I’m definitely taking notes on the business end of things that I plan to implement into my personal ventures soon. My long term goals are more centered around having my own production studio. Basically being a one-stop shop for talented musicians. So, working at Ambient is helping me prep for that.

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Photo By Shelby Gordon

What do you have in store for the near future?

So many fun things! I always have some cool things planned with the Bae Worldwide team. Right now we’re ramping up for our 1 Year Anniversary this August hosted by Bosco and headlined by Speakerfoxxx. We’re keeping it very home base this time. And I’ve worked on a few music videos that are still in post production, but should be out soon! Gonna keep the artists a secret until they’re officially out. Keep an eye on iimpaulaa.com for updates on that!

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Photo By Girardo G., Esthetic Collective

Who are some renowned/local artists who motivate you?

Man, there are so many artists and friends that push me to be better everyday. As far as musicians + performers there’s Thrice Groove, Bosco, St. Beauty, Abra, India Shawn, Arielle Symone, Kiya Lacey, The Pheels, Hello Ocho, Mikkoh, Decoteau, Hourglass, the list goes on and on. And as for visual artists, I’m constantly in awe with the work of Gerald Lovell, Jurell Cayetano, Davion Alston, Branden Collins, Hasani Sahlehe, Marina Fini, Alex Gardner, Bree Holt, again the list is never ending.

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Photo By Shelby Gordon

How do you want to be remembered? 

Just being remembered at all is pretty tight. Ideally, I’d want to be remembered as someone who gives their all, all the time.

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